Feb 20, 2011

Cantua Creek + Pine Flat weekend

Cantua Creek

Terence and I drove out to Coalinga the night before, so the wake up for this 8:10 roll out was not too bad - 5:45. We had breakfast in our hotel room and headed to the race. By the time I got my chip, my number, set everything up and made a run to the bathroom, there really wasn't any time for a warm up. So this was the second year in a row I would be starting this race cold. I wasn't too worried about it because I knew the course well and figured that there would be plenty of time to warm up as no one would be crazy enough to gun it from the start in a virtually flat 70-mile race. I was right. 

The race is three laps of out and back, which on my Garmin came out to 70 miles, but it was advertised as 78, which is kind of irrelevant to this story. The first leg of the first lap was very uneventful, no one wanted to push the pace and we kind of rolled at a moderate pace to the turnaround point. I knew that the turnaround point was going to be a pain in the ass, so I made sure to be in the front of the group at each turnaround point. Otherwise, you come to a near dead stop and then have to sprint to catch the guys who already made the turn - not the way I wanted to burn my matches that day. 

Fast forward to mile 15 or so. I looked around and determined that I somehow ended up at the very back of the peloton, a place I absolutely didn't want to be. However, the way the peloton moved, you could have driven a truck through it, so in about 30 seconds, I made my way to the lead five guys. As soon as I assumed my position, two juniors (who were racing in our field - a gifted bunch) from the same team went into a break, then a UCSD guy followed, so I figured, "what the hell" and bridged to him bringing another guy with me. We were away in a break, but I could tell right away that this break didn't have enough to stay away as it seemed like mine were the strongest TT legs in the bunch and the organization was sort of lacking. After a mile or two of this, I looked back and saw that the rest of the field was happily sitting about 300 yards back. I eased off and continued at a moderate pace waiting to be swallowed up. 

By the time the peloton caught me, I was already half way up the three-mile climb to the turnaround, as they came around, I moved within them to the turnaround point and safely made it around, again without the need to stop and sprint. As the three-mile downhill came to an end, a Davis Bike Club guy, Jason, went into the break. He got about 200 yards on the field, as another biker attempted to bridge. The sad part, this break actually could have stayed away, but for the error of another Davis guy. Here's the situation:

Jason goes into the break, his teammate is sitting second or third wheel out when another guy goes by him to bridge. The teammate's job is then to jump on that guy's wheel and have him drag him to his Jason. Now, you have two Davis guys in a break. By the time we reached the half way point - the third turnaround, the two-man break had a minute and 20 seconds on the field, but now the field would be chasing them with a tailwind, and they had to work very hard to get that minute twenty into the headwind. We slowly started pulling them back. I ended up in the front pulling a few times, but really tried to keep myself protected, as I knew that the next day would be a much harder race with half the field coming in with fresh legs. 

As we began the final climb, a CSC guy got on the front and started pulling, I was second wheel, we made it that way to the two-thirds point, another turnaround. And other than the two guys in the break, the CSC guy and I were the first ones at the cone. The break was now within about 200 yards. The CSC guy was visibly spent and I kind of felt like bringing the field together, so I drilled it on the rollers and in about a minute, the whole group was glued together again. The last lap was fairly uneventful. Jason kept attacking, but no one was about to give him any room and the whole peloton stayed together. It looked like it was going to be a complete clusterfuck at the finish as the entire group stayed together, wagering on who would be fastest up the climb. 

There was a problem, however, as I finished lap two, I felt my calves begin to cramp. The cramps weren't there yet, but I knew that there was a chance I could seize up. I right away began drinking everything I had, but as everyone knows, at that point it's already too late. I stayed protected on the way out on the final lap and spun easy as much as I could, stretching my calves in the process. On the way back to the finish, they felt good, and I thought that maybe the liquid helped. I put in a couple counter attacks when people tried to break and took a few pulls, all without issue. As we were approaching the final climb, I was in the pack of the first 4 or 5 guys and stayed that way until we hit the 1KM mark, then everyone went. I got out of the saddle ready to give it my big chainring push, but my calves were having none of it - the pre-cramp feeling came back. I had a choice, I either go for it, most likely seize up and screw my legs for Pine Flat, or go sub-optimal and finish with legs good enough for the next day. This being my C race, I opted for the latter. A bunch of guys ended up passing me, but because I was one of the lead guys going into the finish, I still ended up at the back of the lead pack. I can't tell you where I placed because despite the chip, and the officials and the video, due to so many people crossing the line at the same time, they only placed the first nine and promised the rest of the results later - when later happens, I'll update this post, but I'm guessing somewhere in the 20s.

Pine Flat

After Cantua, Terrence was invited to a pasta dinner hosted by Rusty and her boyfriend Mark, who races for Safeway. Dan, Jonathan and Nick were also in attendance. Having never done this race before, we were informed, half-jokingly, that the hardest part is the promenade out of the parking lot at a 17 percent grade with switchbacks and speed bumps. 

The drive from Fresno where we were staying to the start was about 45 minutes and we got up at 4:30 to make sure we get there by 6, we did. It was a balmy 34 degrees when we got there and foggy. 

Despite the fact that the registration opened 30 minutes later than scheduled, we were only delayed by about 10 minutes, and with the whistle, up the ramp we went. The course was a 62 mile near loop. It went out 11 miles, then went back 11 miles and continued for another 40 to the finish at the top of a climb. At the go signal, I had an issue clipping in. Normally, it's not a problem, but sometimes when I'm wearing booties (and I was because it was friggin' cold), my fo0t slips and it doesn't clip in right away. So I ended up pedaling with one leg not fully clipped in, as going up 17 percent, I really didn't feel comfortable taking one leg off the pedal and trying again, considering I was surrounded by riders on both sides. As we got to the turn, I easily clipped in, but by that time, I was near the back of the group. Dan Martin gave me some great advice about moving through the pack at dinner the night before, and I figured since the group was going to stay together for a while, I should practice what he talked about. So I watched carefully the guys around me and as soon as someone would lose concentration and moved out of position, I jumped into their spot. It took about 20 miles at that rate, but I was in the top 10 at that point. Anyway, let's rewind to how the race unfolded.

The out and back part had some longish rollers, but nothing too hard or steep to break up the field. After the first roller, came the first winding decent and that was all I really needed to figure out whose wheel NOT to follow. The dynamic of the race was also very clear - the big, non-climber guys went to the front to control the pace, which suited me just fine because I can climb better than they can, and there's no way in hell they are dropping me on the flats. I also didn't mind them wasting their energy up front. There were also two Taleo guys in the mix, one of whom doesn't exactly follow proper rider etiquette and as we reach the denouement of this story, he becomes the antagonist. 

As we passed the point of the start, meaning we were about 22 miles into the race, there came a longer downhill followed by a longish uphill. Now I could see who the competition was and who really wouldn't be a problem on the climb. I didn't really have issues pedaling up the climb seated in my big ring, but some folks had to do some hard out of the saddle work; however, no one got dropped. Then we reached the flat portion of the route which would last about 18 miles or so, but which did see some attacks, all of which were unsuccessful - no one was willing to let anyone have any room on the final two climbs. At one point, apparently out of pure desperation or frustration, the Taleo guy jumped over the yellow line (a big no-no in this race) and moved up about seven places. Almost on instinct, I yelled out "what the f**k!" Luckily for him, the ref didn't see the infraction. 

As the group was yo-yoing on the flats, I began to feel my legs fatigue and had serious doubts about what I would be able to do on the climb. Then, I told myself, "just go as hard as you can go for as long as you can go, and there is no more that you can ask of yourself." So that's what I did. As we began to climb, I latched on to the back of the lead pack and went as hard as I could for as long as I could. The bad news, they did manage to dislodge me. The good news, we dropped 30 riders in the process. 

The CSC guy from Cantua and I were the last two in the lead pack and I was holding his wheel, then he was holding my wheel, then he began to disappear into oblivion and I was in no man's land between the lead group of what I now know to be 16 and the chase group of 31. I settled into a rhythm and ignoring the pain began pushing pedals at a pace I knew I could sustain for about 18 minutes, as that was the max it would take me to crest that climb. My estimate was about right, but I actually finished it in 16:45, or so Strava tells me. Within 500 meters of the summit of the first climb, I saw one guy from the lead pack - the carrot I needed. The motivation I needed was the guy at the top of the climb with a vuvuzela. Before I caught him, Dan Martin passed me - he was in a solo break from the Masters P/1/2/3 field. Then I caught the guy and we crested together, working off each other on the long downhill and flat sections as we approached the final climb. On one of the flat sections, Jonathan caught up to us and pulled up beside me. "Trying to chase down your own guy?" I asked him. He said, "Oh, is that Dan up ahead?" "Yeah," I said, and he took off to join him in the now two-man break in the Masters P/1/2/3 field. 

As we continued to work through the flat sections, we saw the Taleo guy. Of course, as Dan and Jonathan passed him, he thought he'd get a free ride, but they quickly shook him off their wheels with an admonition more so than with speed. As we passed him, to no surprise of mine, he grabbed the other guy's wheel, as I was in the lead at that point. Through a couple rotations, in which the two of us were taking 30-45 second pulls, the Taleo guy was getting a free ride. On the third one, I yelled at him to pull through. What he did next, started to piss me off. He took about 10 pedal strokes and waved us through as if he was done. This happened maybe three times. Then we approached the base of the final one-mile climb and we began to climb. I pulled beside the Taleo guy and he said to me in a very sorry voice, "I popped my chain like three times today." I don't really know what the hell that means, but I assume he dropped it. Frankly, if he wants to make excuses for himself as to why he got dropped, that's his own problem, but when we caught him, he was clearly not in any condition to go hard and his bike mechanics had nothing to do with it. 

As I passed him, he jumped on my wheel and clearly expected me to pace him across the finish line. "Payback time!" I thought to myself and I drilled it up the hill. The downhill and flat sections gave me plenty of time to recover and I know exactly how hard I could push up a one-mile climb. I pushed until it hurt, and then pushed some more. I was actually enjoying this pain because I knew that he was right on my wheel and was in even greater pain than I was. Then I decided it was time for the icing on the cake. I dropped a gear, got out of the saddle and hit about 10 pedal strokes really hard. An immediate 20 yards of distance appeared between us. Right as I sat down, we hit a 12 percent pitch which would take us to the 200 meter mark. I hit that even harder but seated. The next time I looked back, he was a dot in my field of vision. I crossed the line in 15th place. I later heard him blaming his performance on his chain. I guess all he needs to do to get his next win is get a good tune up. 

From the finish was an easy eight-mile roll to the staging area. Then a drive home.

Summing up

I went into this weekend looking to test my legs and to see how my fitness has been progressing, and I must say, I'm very happy with the results at this point. I had no issue keeping up at Cantua, and had I hydrated myself properly the night before, maybe I wouldn't have had cramps and could have finished higher up in the standings, maybe even podiumed. But it's always easier to guess what could have been than actually doing it and those who finished ahead of me, clearly did their homework better than I. That's what these early races are for - getting the kinks out, figuring stuff out and on some occasions, remembering the basics. Pine Flat, on the other hand, was more of a climbers race and while I wasn't quite able to keep up with the stronger climbers, I did beat out 33 other guys on that hill and that's way more than I could have done last year at this time. And who knows, had I not raced the day before, maybe I would have had the legs to hold it together with the lead pack, they didn't drop me by that much. The training is working, the fitness is progressing and I'm reaping the benefits from the weight lost. More hill repeats, more sprints, more indoor training and more racing/Roaster rides will be my formula for success this year. Snelling RR is on deck.

Just after I caught the guy dropped from the lead pack.

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